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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

LE BEAU SERGE (1958)

Thanks to a small, unexpected inheritance, Claude Chabrol got a jump on Truffaut, Godard & the rest of the Cahiers du Cinèma gang, kick-starting the Nouvelle Vague by writing, helming & producing this sharp character piece. Jean-Claude Brialy stars as a young man who returns to his hometown, hoping for a quiet, restful winter after a bout with TB. The rural town itself is one of the main characters and it seems much the same, for better and for worse. But Serge, his best pal from the old days, isn’t the same. He’s drifted into a dead-end marriage, a dead-end job and a deadening drinking habit; and the main theme of the film shows how trying to revive a friend & a friendship is one of those ‘good deeds’ you wind up getting punished for. Especially when old wives & new girlfriends complicate some serious male bonding. Working easily with lenser Henri Decaë, Chabrol shows a quick visual command that makes it look at if he’s been doing this for decades. And the tricky mix of balancing professional actors & local amateurs hardly fazes him; a natural from his first camera set up, a smoothie. (Only a comically maladroit score from Émile Delpierre’ in his only film credit suffers from freshman jitters.) Gérard Blain is electrifying as Serge, the rebellious, handsome, eponymous pal (very French James Dean, ‘Rebel Without A Baguette’). Best of all, you can already feel the nasty edge Chabrol likes to season his characters & plots with. It also exposes his main fault, pushing too hard on a single character flaw/tic to make his stories add up. Often as not, it’s worth the effort.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THEW DAY: Watch for Chabrol & assistant director Philippe de Broca in bit roles playing a couple of locals named ‘Truffe" & Jacques Rivette. Oh, those Cahiers Cut-Ups!

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